THE GANG OF 11
Senior writer Paul Zimmerman on the NFL owners 'failure to name a commissioner last week at a meeting in Chicago: When Pete Rozelle was elected NFL commissioner in 1960, the process took 23 ballots and more than a week. Last Thursday the six-man search committee appointed to find a successor to Rozelle came to the owners' meeting expecting a first-ballot confirmation of its sole nominee, Saints president and general manager Jim Finks. For approval, Finks, 61, needed the votes of 19 of the 28 owners.
But a dissident movement was afoot. The week before, Bronco owner Pat Bowlen, one of the leaders of the movement, had called Steeler owner Dan Rooney and Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, both members of the search committee, and warned that unless they made changes. Finks wouldn't receive 19 votes. "I told them our people were upset with the makeup of the search committee and the fact that we were going to be presented with only one name." says Bowlen. "I told them the best thing would be to postpone the meeting and arrange a new format presenting more nominees. They thanked me and paid no attention."
The search committee took a straw poll and found that Finks still had the backing of 20 owners. Confident that their man would be approved, the committee met with Finks on July 4 in New York City and worked out a five-year contract. Two days later, owners gathered at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare for a scheduled 2 p.m. vote.
The rebels, most of them newer, younger owners who felt that they had been denied a say in the selection process, met privately at the hotel. Their ranks had grown to 11—enough to block Finks's approval. They decided to ask the league to extend the search, give them information about other candidates and add three more owners—probably Bowlen, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. of the 49ers and Mike Lynn of the Vikings—to the search committee.
The full group of owners didn't meet until 4:30 p.m. There was an immediate vote on Finks: 16 yeas, 11 abstentions, one absentee. A second ballot produced the same result. The owners debated until 11 p.m., then adjourned.
They did agree to add Bowlen, DeBartolo and Lynn to the search committee. That committee will prepare dossiers on seven candidates, including Finks, and the owners will consider them before voting again later this summer. Finks is still likely to emerge as the winner—"If [the search committee] had done it right, he'd be our commissioner right now," says Lynn—but only if the wishes of the dissenting Gang of 11 are followed. The group wants the search committee to eventually drop three old-guard members and become a transition committee that would help the new commissioner into office and consider changes in the league's management structure.
"There's been a palace guard that's surrounded Pete Rozelle," says Bowlen. "Now that he's retiring, we don't want to see it happen again. When we wanted a restructuring of the committee, the old-guard owners refused to address it. If they continue to, then you won't have a vote on a commissioner."
THE FAST-BREAK LOOK
When the Indiana Pacers took the court in Boston Garden for a game in January, newly hired coach Dick Versace all but shielded his eyes. "Those are the ugliest uniforms I've ever seen," he told assistant Dave Twardzik. But Versace figured Pacer president and general manager Donnie Walsh was teasing him recently when Walsh said sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner was redesigning Indiana's uniforms. "When I found out it was reality, I thought it was a stroke of genius," says Versace.